Social Affairs Minister Seamus Brennan yesterday announced the rush-hour restrictions, in place for almost 40 years, will be lifted from September 25 next.
The cost of allowing the 600,000 free travel pass holders onto buses and trains at the peak hours will not be prohibitive, he said.
At present the scheme costs €58 million per year to run — all but €10m of which is paid to the CIÉ group.
The increased access will cost an extra €2m-€3m a year, Mr Brennan said. He added that he did not foresee any major problems with capacity as a result of more free travel pass holders using the service at the busiest period.
Mr Brennan, speaking in Government Buildings, also revealed he is in detailed negotiations with the Northern Ireland office in relation to extending free travel to north-south journeys.
In addition, he is also talking with his counterparts in Brussels about the possibility of allowing free travel for Irish pensioners travelling within the EU.
“The lifting of all travel restrictions at peak times will benefit tens of thousands of people, particularly older people and those with disabilities, who up to now have been severely curtailed in the times they have been allowed to travel and in the main cities, and surrounding areas,” he said.
He said that the decision sent out a strong message from Government in relation to its social policies. It reflected, he said, the fact that more older people, and those with disabilities, are active in the workforce and involved in other activities.
Of the 600,000 people who hold free travel passes, 430,000 are aged over 66 years, while 145,000 receive invalidity or disability payment. A further 25,000 are carers.
Fine Gael and Labour both welcomed yesterday’s announcement. Olivia Mitchell of Fine Gael pointed out, however, that the move would be meaningless without more buses in Dublin. Labour’s Liz McManus said that greater efforts should be made to extend free travel to Irish pensioners living in Britain.